Rhythm vs. Voice

Last night I listened to a screenwriter talk to the writer’s group about creating screenplays. While I don’t write those, there were many things she said that translated to writing in general, and we had a fun, lively discussion. At one point she was talking about rhythm and how important that is. I asked her how rhythm was different from voice. She said that voice is within rhythm.

I confess that several minutes of discussion eluded me because I was still stuck on that phrase.

From a writing standpoint, I know two things. Voice is that distinct flavor of words that mark a story as coming from me. My writing voice is hopefully very different from yours. Okay, I get that point. Rhythm I connect to pacing. If I want tension, I know to create short, snappy sentences and to use punctuation to emphasize the tension. I know to read out loud during the editing phase because the ear hears what the eye misses. I know that careful selection of the right word, the right order of words, the right length of sentences and paragraphs, also create rhythm.

But I’m still stuck on that phrase. Voice is in the rhythm. Does that mean my writing voice has a distinct rhythm, too? That’s a possibility. A friend told me once that my stories suck her in slowly and inexorably until she wakes up to realize she’s trapped and can’t put the book down.  That kind of sounds like pacing.

I wonder if rhythm and voice are interchangeable, entwined, two words for the same thing. Or unique tools that I am not learning to differentiate between and use properly.

I wonder if there are definitions of each that I am missing, and because of that, if there is something missing in the writing. I’m not worrying, mind you, not going down that familiar writer’s path of thinking ‘I’m doing something wrong; my writing stinks’. I am curious though. I know I could research this on the internet and probably will at some point. Right now though, I’d rather pause and ponder.

Rhythm, tone, sound, words that sing, that sound right, that flow. Words as the imagery of sound.

Sounds like voice to me.

What do you think? Any words of wisdom?

8 thoughts on “Rhythm vs. Voice

  1. I have no idea. I can guess that the rhythm is what you hear if the writing were without words, if the words were notes and you were listening to music. Voice has rhythm but it also has the specific words and meaning and mood and and tone and all its connotations. The more I mumble through, the more I feel like I understand rhythm and the less I understand voice.

    Sorry. Just confused myself. Hope I didn’t bring you down with me.

    Ah, well. Screenplays. I am interested in that. And how do you feel rhythm in a screenplay? In dialogue or in pacing? Just wondering.


    • I’m glad I’m not the only one confused! I think I understand until I start to think…I believe the rhythm of screenplays is in the ‘beat’ of the dialog and the pace of the action, as in the pacing of comedy.


  2. I think rhythm is within voice. I also think rhythm is a separate thing that can (and should) be manipulated without changing voice. Rhythm is in the choice of words, the punctuation, the length of sentence, the paragraph, the scene, the chapter, the story. Voice — to me — is attitude. The attitude can come from gender, age, socio-economic status, culture, whatever is uniquely the writer AS A Particular Character. As such, I don’t believe you can really manipulate it as consciously as you can rhythm, but you can change or maintain it if you remain conscious of where its origin is.

    Honestly, I don’t know if any of that applies to screenplays — which continue to mystify me. I’ve never seen one, although I’ve seen the result (like we all have), and have wondered more than once, “what were they thinking?” 🙂 I don’t believe it’s a good idea to try and use a screenplay technique to improve novel writing, if you’re not clear on the purpose of the technique. Writing novels is too difficult in the first place to deliberately muddy the waters with unclear definitions of techniques meant for something else entirely.


    • I like the idea of voice as attitude and also that voice shouldn’t be manipulated like rhythm. Then it becomes less true to who the writer is. I left the meeting not too sure that the art of writing screenplays translates to writing fiction, just like you did. I think I’d need to study it a bit more. I can see how you could use a screenplay as an outline like they were talking about, but I’m not sure it would make the outline process any easier. And a treatment and synopsis sound a lot alike, too. Well, for a dip into screenplays, it was interesting, but I definitely need to hear more. I am still intrigued by voice and rhythm though.


  3. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of voice being within rhythm. It does make sense, but I’ve always viewed the two seperately; and I do the same when it comes to rhythm, changing the pace of a sentence to create a specific mood.

    They do go hand in hand I suppose. Without rhythm, the voice would fall flat, and without voice, is there really rhythm? It’s


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